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Pilot project on digitalization and artificial intelligence

“Digitalization and Sustainability – digitainable” by Prof. Dr. Jakob Rhyner und Dr. Shivam Gupta

As a platform for macrosocial work on a sustainable future, the Bonn Alliance for Sustainability Research establishes the Innovation Campus Bonn (ICB). Actors with diverse backgrounds are invited to introduce their ideas, their expert knowledge and perspectives and work together on sustainability topics of mutual interest and relevance.


Digitalization is an important driver for change in many areas of our lives and there is intense debate about whether it has a positive or negative impact on sustainable development. Often such considerations remain general. The main objective of the project digitainable is to go beyond this and to examine in detail the impact of Digitalization on sustainability.

The most comprehensive formulation of our current understanding of sustainability is the UN Agenda 2030, which was adopted by the UN member states in September 2015. With its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specified by 169 targets and more than 200 indicators, it comprehensively captures the sustainability landscape, including different areas such as improving health, eradicating poverty, gender equality, climate change and many others. To come close to achieving these goals within the planned timeframe, a breakthrough in terms of speed and degree of progress is necessary. It is often assumed that digitalization and artificial intelligence (D&AI) can be used to significantly increase progress towards the SDGs. However, it is still unclear where and how D&AI can help to control and monitor the complex interrelationships of the broadly defined SDGs and their indicators, and where it could even hamper progress, for example through the high consumption of energy if it is generated from fossil sources. Digitainable aims to uncover the complex relationships between the indicators of SDGs and to understand the impact of D&AI on the progress of SDGs, both from a technical-scientific and a social-scientific perspective.

Methodological approach

In the project, the influence of D&AI on the Agenda 2030 indicators is examined individually. A particular challenge is that D&AI are not explicitly addressed either in the SDGs themselves or in the targets and indicators. Therefore, the interrelationships are mostly indirect. The project is therefore divided into the following two phases:

Phase 1: The project will identify the impact of D&AI at the indicator level, both at the level of individual indicators and their linkages. It will attempt to describe a Theory of Change for each indicator.

Phase 2: It is known that there are numerous synergies and tradeoffs between the different indicators. The project will examine possible effects of D&AI on these relationships and will try to identify options where D&AI can enhance synergies and mitigate tradeoffs. In particular, it will also examine how to incorporate the issue of D&AI into a future ("post-2030") agenda.

Project team and collaboration

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explanations and notes


  • Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
  • Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn